Former Blue Jays coach Don Wakamatsu made his major-league debut as the catcher for Charlie Hough and his unpredictable knuckleball. Wakamatsu was called up from the Vancouver Canadians in 1991.
By Tom Hawthorn, The Province, May 24, 1991Don Wakamatsu's dream job proved to be every catcher's worst nightmare.
The 28-year-old backstop ended a six-year apprenticeship Wednesday by playing his first major league baseball game. His unenviable assignment was to track a knuckleballer's unguided missiles.
"It's a nightmare to get called up and have to catch Charlie Hough," Wakamatsu said yesterday, the day after his debut. "It's nerve-racking."
Wakamatsu was plucked from baseball anonymity earlier this week, as the Chicago White Sox bought his contract from the Vancouver Canadians.
It was just another among dozens of midseason roster moves, a bit of baseball paperwork noted only by Rotisserie devotees and a patient catcher's delighted family.
For Wakamatsu, who was toting a humbling .127 batting average here, the unlikely promotion has temporarily put aside thoughts of retirement.
"You play in the minor leagues for so long, you wonder if you're ever going to move up," Wakamatsu said before last night's game in Oakland.
"Everything I touched this year went bad. You can't ever give up. Statistic-wise, when I'm playing my worst, I get called up. It's a strange game."
Wakamatsu was promoted by the parent club after backup catcher Ron Karkovice tore a ligament in his left thumb.
On his arrival, manager Jeff Torborg, a former catcher, tossed the rookie a glove as big as a ham hock with the warning he was to handle the notorious knuckleballer.
Early in his debut, two elusive pitches corkscrewed away from him, one costing a run.
Wakamatsu lined a single to right field in four at-bats in a White Sox victory over the California Angels at Anaheim. The ball was waiting in his locker after the game.
Meanwhile, Wakamatsu hopes to learn more about his trade from first-string catcher Carlton Fisk, a future Hall-of-Famer.
"He's been in the game forever, longer than any other catcher," Wakamatsu says. "He's got an aura around him. I try to pick his brain whenever I can."
After a minor-league whistle-stop tour that included stops in Iowa, Florida, Montana, Alabama and Tennessee,Wakamatsu is enjoying the fruits of the major league minimum salary of $100,000 US.
As well, Wakamatsu has finally read his name in a big league boxscore, even if it was shrunk to "Wkmts".
His temporary job has won him a permanent citation in the venerable Baseball Encyclopedia.
"Now, I can be remembered," he said with a laugh. "They say there's only one place to play, and it's the bigs, that's for sure."